- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 5, 2006

LOS ANGELES

The most powerful man in Hollywood isn’t an A-list actor, but he attends more movie premieres than Brad Pitt and George Clooney combined. He has no entourage, but he hits enough night spots to make Paris Hilton jealous. He’s a red-carpet regular with the power to shut down any event from the Oscars on down.

Robert Gladden isn’t a filmmaker or financier. He’s a fireman, one of 14 in Los Angeles who inspect and oversee areas of public assembly. His territory is Tinseltown, and practically every Holly- wood party, performance or premiere requires his approval.

“If the public could be endangered, we’re on it,” says Mr. Gladden, 54.

In the process, the slim, silver-haired fireman gets a front-row seat to some of the world’s most-watched events. His interest ostensibly is safety, not celebrity, but he has had more brushes with fame than a Hollywood stylist.

“I absolutely have the coolest job,” he says. “There’s nothing like it because most people don’t associate being a fireman with all this celebrity stuff.”

Mr. Gladden trained in the Air Force, then followed his late father’s footsteps into the Los Angeles Fire Department. He joined in 1978, 10 years after his dad died in a blaze. He took on his current assignment in 1996.

His boss, Capt. Philip Ayala, calls him “Mr. Hollywood … a real people person, which helps in this part of town.”

What counts in Hollywood is who you know, says honorary mayor Johnny Grant, and “in show business, everybody knows Robert Gladden.”

When talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel closed down Hollywood Boulevard for a free Jay-Z concert last week, Mr. Gladden was there, coordinating with police to manage 5,000 fans who filled the street. He was so busy flitting between the studio, the street and the roof of the building that he barely noticed Beyonce backstage.

He acknowledges that firemen on the Hollywood beat adopt “a badge of coolness and maintain that they don’t care” about seeing celebrities, but Mr. Gladden, a lifelong rock ‘n’ roll fan and movie buff, admits that he does.

“I’ve only asked for one autograph ever,” he says with pride. “It was [“The Simpsons” creator] Matt Groening, for my sister.”

Mr. Gladden gladly rocked from an unbeatable spot, right next to the stage, for a Rolling Stones concert (his favorite band) at Dodger Stadium. He had similar “seats” for shows by Aerosmith, Supertramp and Page & Plant.

His job has taken him to the Academy Awards six times, with unfettered access to the venue, the red carpet and the star-filled green room. He once helped an Oscar-toting Renee Zellweger navigate her way backstage at the Kodak Theatre.

These days, Mr. Gladden is an integral part of the Oscars show-planning process. He was so involved with the construction of the Kodak Theatre that a photo of his face graces the entrance to its parking structure.

Working the Oscars is just part of the job, though. Mr. Gladden signs off on almost every event at the Kodak Theatre.

Mr. Gladden once shook hands with President Clinton and posed for pictures with Oscar winner Halle Berry. He stopped David Bowie and Sean Penn from lighting up in a no-smoking zone. He has been to the Playboy mansion, a private party at Quincy Jones’ house and countless star-studded celebrations at Hollywood nightclubs, from Justin Timberlake’s fashion show at Social to the Leeza Gibbons Memorial Foundation ball at Avalon.

“I’ve been offered all kinds of things from ladies trying to get into parties,” says Mr. Gladden, who married his high school sweetheart seven years ago. “It happens regularly. I’ve been flashed several times.”

Mr. Gladden OKs movie openings at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, controls crowds at concerts at the Hollywood Bowl and supervises star ceremonies along the Walk of Fame. He cruises the clubs on weekends to ensure that exits are easily accessible.

If he determines a place is too crowded, he can close it down almost instantly.

“He is the most powerful man in Hollywood,” says Baydsar Thomasian, a field deputy for the Los Angeles City Council. “This man, himself, can make or break an event.”

Mr. Gladden’s gig has even gotten him some screen time. He appeared in a documentary (about Mr. Kimmel’s show) and was invited to be an extra in a movie (he declined).

Working in Hollywood is kind of a homecoming for the fireman. His first job was at Paramount Studios as a teenager in 1969. He used his earnings, $54 a week, to support his lifelong hobby: photography.

Mr. Gladden’s Nikon digital camera, like his Treo, is an omnipresent accessory on the job. He estimates he has taken more than 38,000 photos since starting on the Hollywood beat. Some he uses for work: to examine the structural integrity of a stage setup, for example, or to help estimate crowd size. But others ? like the shot of Wolfgang Puck’s staff preparing thousands of desserts behind the Kodak Theatre or the one of a giant Oscar statue wrapped in protective plastic are just for fun.

“I’d pay him anything he wanted for his collection,” Mr. Grant says.

Besides monitoring special events, Mr. Gladden inspects 192 sites of public assembly in Hollywood each year, including the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium, the El Capitan Theatre and the Hollywood Wax Museum. He knows the history of each building, rattling off statistics about when they were built and what they used to be.

A self-described history buff, Mr. Gladden has filled his bookshelf with stories about presidents and famous filmmakers. He says he would have been a journalist if he hadn’t become a fireman. But with 10-hour shifts and ample overtime, Mr. Gladden doesn’t have much free time to read.

That’s all about to change, though. As Hollywood well knows, the spotlight can be fleeting: Mr. Gladden is set to retire in 2008.

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